When Chaz Bono announced publicly in 2009 that he was transitioning, he became a trailblazer for trans actors in Hollywood.
The actor, whose roles in American Horror Story: Roanoke and American Horror Story: Cult have earned him cult status, recently sat down with Demi Lovato on their podcast, 4D with Demi Lovato, where he spoke about how his journey toward sobriety and his journey toward discovering his gender identity are intimately connected.
"Having lived it, I don't think of myself as that brave," Bono told Lovato. "I figured out that I was trans almost 10 years before I transitioned and was terrified, absolutely terrified of it."
A "kid of the '70s,' Bono didn't have "YouTube or the internet," but knew from an early age that there was something "totally different about me."
"I knew I wished I was a boy. I knew I felt like a boy. I didn't have a name for it," he said. "When I was about 13, I started to identify my attraction to girls. I knew 'gay' and ‘lesbian' so I thought that's what this feeling is, and I tried to fit in that identity for about 30 years."
Then, when he was at a party in the early 2000s with "a lot of lesbians," a moment of clarity happened.
"I started to realize there’s something not right here," he explained. "I remember this particular time thinking: 'Huh, all of these women, no matter how they present themselves — now I know it's their gender expression, but we didn't have those words then — whether they're more feminine or more butch, they all identify as women, they all are happy being women and I'm not.'"
He continued, "For a long time I thought there was a part of the lesbian community that felt like me, which was: I feel like a man, I wish I were a man, I'm not, so I have to deal with it. At that party, I realized that's not the definition of any kind of lesbian. So if I'm not a lesbian, what am I? It was at that point where I realized maybe I'm trans."
Though Bono says he was "sober for five years when I finally transitioned," the actor was still self-medicating his pain through substance abuse — a problem he shared with his girlfriend at the time.
A long-time "people pleaser," Bono shared that it was his time spent at Al-Anon, a support group similar to Alcoholics Anonymous that helps families of alcoholics by practicing the Twelve Steps and giving encouragement, that gave him the push he needed.
"Al-Anon is actually the thing that helped me transition more than anything else," he said. "Finally, I got to a place where I didn't care. I was ready to finally take care of myself."
At the time, Bono was in a relationship with "somebody who kept relapsing."
"As I was going through this, my girlfriend at the time, when we met, were both sober about a year and then she kept relapsing. At the time, it was very upsetting but it ended up being an incredible gift because it got me to Al-Anon and what Al-Anon really teaches you is how to take care of yourself, first and foremost, to take care of your own needs first."
Bono said he experienced "a moment of clarity."
"When it finally hit me, I felt really positive about the whole thing and had no doubt. I started my transition," he said.
While the actor is one of the most famous trans people in the world, he has little interest in playing trans roles.
"I consider myself a character actor so I want to play parts that are as far away from me as possible," he said. "My favorite stuff has been the stuff I did on American Horror Story. I love playing bad guys. I love horror. I love dark stuff. That’s what really turns me on as an actor."
Coincidentally, his love for acting was the very thing that introduced him to his current girlfriend, actress Shara Blue, who he first met while taking part in the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in Los Angeles when they were teenagers.
In fact, his girlfriend was "the first person I ever kissed," he confirmed.
"There are so many things I can look back at my childhood and file in the ‘What were my parents thinking?’ category, but this one decision my mom did was the best thing she ever did," he said.
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